Farmers reassured after green projects go-ahead

Old Moor Nature Reserve
Old Moor Nature Reserve
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TWO environmental improvement projects impacting on large areas of agricultural Yorkshire got the go-ahead this week – to notably cautious welcomes from NFU and CLA.

But the organisers said farmers and landowners had nothing to worry about and could benefit.

Defra announced 12 Nature Improvement Areas for England would share £7.5m. The funding was promised in last year’s Natural Environment White Paper, to promote “joined-up thinking” about conservation – meaning nature reserves needed to be part of a friendly context, rather than ending at a boundary fence.

A panel of experts chose 12 projects to show how this could work, from 76 submitted.

The Dearne Valley Green Heart Partnership, of RSPB, Environment Agency, Natural England and the local authorities of Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham, have got £556,000 to add to £2m already accumulated for a three-year effort in a former mining area of South Yorkshire.

And a consortium led by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust has £580,000 to make up £1.6m to be spent over three years in nearly 50,000 hectares of ‘Humberhead Levels’, taking in both sides of the Humber and tributaries from Notts and Lincs.

NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond said the purpose of the NIAs had to be balanced with “the need for farmers to manage their businesses”. CLA president Harry Cotterell was anxious the NIAs did not lead to more planning constraints. Defra said: “It is a matter for local authorities to decide what weight they wish to give to NIAs.”

Kevin Bayes, the Humberside Levels project manager for the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, said NIA designation did not give them the power to do anything but negotiate with farmer and landowners.

One project would be to find markets for reeds cut by conservationist bodies to keep habitats healthy – possibly for thatch, possibly for fuel.

That venture might beat a path for private enterprise too.

Another aim was to create wetland corridors, linking nature reserves, to assist the mobility of non-flying wildlife. Farmers might get grants for allowing non-productive land alongside watercourses to be used – or for building reservoirs with a wildlife support function.

He said: “All we are offering is collaboration and advice. We know how important this area is for arable crops.”

Pete Wall, the RSPB’s man on the Dearne Valley project, said their plans included cleaning up Cudworth Dyke, one of the worst-polluted streams in South Yorkshire, and creating ‘wash lands’ to soak up flood water from Dearne and Dove and become wildlife habitats, in unfarmed stretches on either side of the existing RSPB reserve at Old Moor – which opened in 2004 and now gets 100,000 visitors a year.

He said: “We obviously want to work with the NFU and CLA on this very exciting opportunity. But we know we have to make business sense.”

Both projects are looking for volunteers. Contact kevin.bayes@ywt.org.uk or pete.wall@rspb.org.uk/

chris.benfield@ypn.co.uk